I could wax sentimental on childhood. The innocence, the fun, the lack of responsibility. But that would be a lie. It wasn’t easy. Innocent? Not as much as pop psychology and sentiment would like it to be. Growing up is hard work. School is work, learning to be a person, to find ways to fit in with your peers without disappearing as an individual is a battle that starts young and never entirely ends.
Many kids, maybe most, don’t have idyllic childhoods. We have abusive parents, or poor parents who are just too busy trying to keep the household afloat so there’s no time to coddle the children. Schools these days load down children with so much homework they have no time to play. In large households with many children, kids have responsibilities. That’s okay, maybe good, but playtime is important too. Play is how kids learn to use their imagination, test out the social skills they’ll need to have a successful adult life. Playing house is practice for the real deal.
Childhood is a perpetual challenge. There are kids who had a charmed childhood, but I don’t know any of them personally. Most of us had problems. We had learning problems, social problems, poverty, bad parents, busy parents, no parents. No siblings, too many siblings. Not enough “stuff,” or way too much “stuff.” No discipline, too much discipline, trauma and sometimes, just somehow never fitting in.
With all the pains and agonies of growing older, I wouldn’t swap it for going through childhood again, not unless I could have someone else’s rather than mine.
From a parents’ perspective, the odds of getting the parenting thing right approaches zero on a close order. Many of us had kids when we were ourselves still kids. What did we know? By the time we learned enough to be reasonably competent, the kid had his/her own kids.
Raising my son in the early 1970s, I didn’t think much about kids in adult versus kid-oriented places. Where I went, my son went with me. I wasn’t into bars or clubs, so it pretty much meant our house, or someone else’s house. We went to museums, safari parks, other typically family oriented venues, but we did it as much for ourselves as for him. He didn’t go out with us when we would be up late unless it was a friend’s house where he could go to sleep when he was tired. Otherwise, he was as much a member of the family as his father or I. He assures me it was great. I guess I have to believe him.
When my granddaughter came along, her grandfather and I tried to introduce her to stuff that would broaden her horizons. We took her to the ballet and she adored it. We took her to concerts. She loved them, too. We took her to the museum which she loved less, but the zoo was a big hit. I tried to do for her what I would have wanted … which may or may not have been right, but in the end, what else do you have to work with but your own life experience, dreams, hopes, and passions? I tried to teach her to love books … not as successfully as I might with, but managed to give her a love of old things, antiques, old dolls, things from days long ago.
Both my son and my granddaughter understood that there was appropriate and inappropriate behavior in public. That was true whether we were in McDonald’s or Boston Symphony Hall. They might have been hellions at home, but in public, they were polite, interested, and sometimes extremely funny. My granddaughter cartwheeled through the entire Museum of Science in Boston. Japanese tourists thought she was part of the entertainment. The guards applauded. Inappropriate? Maybe. But then again, maybe adults sometimes need to loosen up.
I gave her tools — a good camera, a computer and a sense of curiosity. Maybe it will take, maybe not. She’s a good photographer and secretly, she writes poetry, but is shy about showing it to her family. When she’s ready to share, she will. I was shy about my writing until I was well into adulthood. She’s entitled to her privacy.
If you have more than one child, each one will be different, so whatever you know, you soon discover it doesn’t apply. Most of us do our best, but somehow, our best is never good enough. We make mistakes. We make them because we don’t know better, because we believe we are doing the right thing (but it isn’t), because someone told us that’s what we should do, or that’s what our own parents did … or some other secret reason. Most of us try to be good parents, but it’s not universal. Make no mistake: there are bad parents … brutal, cruel, uncaring and neglectful parents, and far too many of them.
Kids from ugly environments can turn out good or bad according to some whatever inner compass they have. You can see plenty of examples of great people emerging from dreadful homes, and dreadful people emerging from what appear to be an ideal upbringing. It’s a crap shoot. You just don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve made your toss.
I remember the school readers we were given when I was in elementary school. They were full of happy children, happy parents, lovely homes, peaceful streets, and everyone was white. No one was anything like me and no one lived anyplace like I did. It was science fiction for the young. Television shows: “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It To Beaver” portrayed homes so completely unlike mine they might as well have been from another planet, or maybe I was. Those shows did so many of us a disservice because reality is that almost no one had a childhood like that. That was Hollywood. Life isn’t.
When I was pregnant and taking Master’s courses in psychology, I had one professor who was a mother of four young kids. She was teaching child psych and I asked her whether she applied that stuff to raising her own kids.
“Hell no,” she said. “You just love them as much as you can and muddle through. All those books? Forget them. That’s all theory. Real life is something else.”
It was the best advice I got.
- Weekly Writing Challenge Kids Kids Kids (savedollarblog.com)
- Study: Childhood Bullying Starts With Parents (dfw.cbslocal.com)
- The Challenges of Raising Military Kids (nation.time.com)
- Man about the house (guardian.co.uk)
- Mind the Gap… Children in Adult Spaces? (rochellekarina.com)
- Weekly Writing Challenge: You Otter Mind Your Otters (rarasaur.wordpress.com)
- Victoria’s Discreetness (Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap) (pechorina.wordpress.com)